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Covid-19 and The Use of Digital Textbooks in Schools

The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a broad technical expansion across the United States, especially in the educational sector. Schools had to adjust to new means of reaching their pupils during the lockdown period. The phrase “digital education” refers to all aspects of online learning. In 2020, the digital education market for 2022 was projected to be worth over 243 billion U.S. dollars. Print textbook publishers, e-book sales, and the number of computers in classrooms are still being impacted by this.

Technology in Public Schools

The rate of technological adoption was dramatically accelerated by the Covid-19 outbreak. Computers were certainly available in the classroom before, but in much smaller numbers. Now, instead of schools having a few computers here and there, almost every student has been issued a device. Aine Givens reported that during the 2019-2020 academic year computers were only available to every student in 45% of schools. Schools were just starting to make the transition to remote learning, and many simply lacked the resources to do so. Since then, schools have evolved to reflect the changes, and these figures have dramatically increased. More recently, Kevin Bushweller stated that 90% of public schools surveyed said that each middle and high school student would have a digital device for the 2022–2023 academic year.

E-book Sales in Schools

During the peak of the pandemic, e-book and audiobook usage in the classroom reached an all-time high. The Sora student reading app reported an 80% increase from 2019 to 2020 in schools borrowing books from their service. This was nearly triple their numbers from 2019. Due to this exponential growth, in 2022, several state legislatures moved to do away with print textbooks entirely and make that switch to e-books. Texas, Indiana, Michigan, and California have already hopped on the bandwagon.

What This Means for Print Textbook Companies

Five companies largely dominate the textbook market: Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, Scholastic, Cengage Learning, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Jim Milliot reported that print book sales held up very well during 2020 and 2021. However, from 2021 to 2022 the sale of print books fell by 6.5%. People’s increased access to entertainment options and the lifting of COVID lockdowns were two major factors in this decline. Predominantly print textbook companies have made shifts to digital publishing to work around these growing changes. For example, Pearson started making their resources digital-first in 2019. Print textbooks are far from dying out entirely, but the threat is still there, and companies are preparing for it. For elementary and high school students, McGraw-Hill introduced Rise, a program to help educators identify and fill the learning gaps caused by the pandemic. Simon Allen, Ceo of McGraw-Hill commented on the digital shift in the market, and how they have overcome it:

“McGraw Hill’s strong performance over the past several months is a testament to the hard work and investment the company has made in digital learning solutions. Even as sales of print textbooks decline, McGraw Hill’s Higher Education digital business is growing at a rate that markedly outpaces that decline, thanks to our continued digital product expansion and our swift response to the demand for online learning brought on by the pandemic. By investing in smart, affordable, and accessible digital learning tools, we are leading the industry in meeting the shifting needs of educators and students as they navigate the current challenging education environment.”

Before long, print textbooks may phase out entirely, but textbook publishing companies continue to adapt and overcome each shift in the market.

Looking Forward

The world around us continues to enhance technologically with each passing day. Almost every high-school student has a computer, e-textbooks are becoming more prominent, and the standard for learning is rapidly changing. How will this affect student learning and development in years to come? Will print textbooks die off entirely? With all these questions hanging before us, we can be certain that wherever the market goes, companies will follow. Demand will be met with supply.